How to Run Forever: 10 Tips from Ultrarunner Connie Gardner

Ever wonder what it takes to run forever, even as you get older?
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Ultrarunning legend Connie Gardner ran her first marathon when she was just 17 years old.
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And she's been running and racking up records ever since...

  • On the track
  • At road marathons
  • On the trail crushing 100 milers

And at 60 years old, she's still going.
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Want to learn how to run forever?
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Check out Connie's top tips and lessons based on 40-plus years of running...

Connie Gardner has won 11 U.S. Track & Field National Championships. She's won Ultrarunner of the Year twice, and finished first at multiple 100-mile ultramarathons. She ran her first marathon at 17. And at 60, she's still chasing finish lines.

1. Don't let hurdles become excuses

Connie: If you want to be a life-long runner,  you have to realize you're going to have to work through some stuff. There's going to be hurdles along the way with things like:

  • Work
  • Family
  • Injuries
  • And circumstances you can't control

And you have to be OK with that. You have to make sure those hurdles don't turn into excuses that keep you from running.
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You have to figure out how to get over each hurdle, no matter how long it might take.
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It's a strategy that's worked well for me. I'm still hitting times I got when I was 17.

Connie's daughter Gwen Gardner takes the lead with a final kick to the finish.

2. Learn to adapt (you're gonna have to)

Connie: After running marathons for 40-plus years, I know what it's like to deal with different things as your body changes.

  • I had two kids. 
  • I've had injuries. 
  • Three years ago, I was told I couldn't run anymore, and that I need a full knee replacement.

If you want to keep running, you have to learn how to adapt. 

  • That might mean you have to work 10 times as hard to accomplish something you did just a few years earlier. 
  • But if you really want it, you can probably find a way.
  • The real secret to running for a long time is not giving up.

I've ran 170 to 180 ultramarathons over the last couple of decades.

  • Running longer distances can help you learn a lot about your body and what you're capable of doing.
  • You're almost always capable of doing a little more than you think.
  • Set your goals just a little higher than you think you can accomplish, pick something that feels slightly unattainable, and you'll be surprised by what you can do.

You have to learn to adapt. Here's another example:

  • My youngest child has schizophrenia. There's nothing I can do to change that. I can't make it go away.
  • The best I can do is set up the safest environment possible for her.

Here's the lesson running can teach you:

  • You can't control what's going to happen tomorrow or on your next run.
  • You can't always plan for the unexpected.
  • Sometimes you just have to be OK with taking things day by day.
Connie Gardner ran her first marathon when she was 17.

3. Run your own race (your uterus will not fall out)

Connie: When I ran my first marathon in 1981 at the Columbus Marathon when I was 17, women had not run the marathon distance in the Olympics yet.
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I literally had people tell me:

  • "Your uterus is going to fall out. You've got to stop this running nonsense. If you run that far, you're not going to be able to have a family."

It was a different time. Sometimes it's hard to believe that was in my lifetime.
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I just decided I wanted to run my own race.

  • My running idols were guys like Frank Shorter and Bill Rogers. But there were no female runners.
  • I watched the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon
  • And I decided I wanted to see if I could cover the 26.2-mile distance for myself.
Connie Gardner started running ultras when her daughters were young.

4. Run with young kids: Yes. You. Can.

Connie: I ran my first 100-miler at the Mohican 100 in Ohio when my kids were young, so I didn't have a normal training schedule.

  • I was a regular mom in the neighborhood making lunches, hustling kids to school and coaching team sports.
  • I just decided to sneak in runs wherever I can
  • And get to the starting line with whatever miles I had

When I hit mile 95 during that first 100-mile ultra, my brain thought:

  • Wow. This really isn't as bad as I thought it would be.
  • I haven't had any big struggles out on the course.
  • Maybe I'm set up for running ultras

As a young mom, running 100 miles was kind of like a nice get-away for me.
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It's kind of like you experience a year of life jammed into about 24 hours.

Connie Gardner works part-time at Second Sole AkRUN. From left: Nikki Niemeyer, Alex Phillip, Connie Gardner.

5. Help other runners

Connie Gardner works part-time at Second Sole AkRUN when she's not teaching P.E. classes at a local elementary school.
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Connie: It's super fun to work at Second Sole after so many years of being part of the running community here.
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Time flies every time I'm working at the store. And it doesn't really even feel like work. Akron's running community is pretty tight.
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When someone comes in looking for running shoes, I try to find out:

  • Where they're at
  • What experiences they've had with running
  • What their goals are

It's pretty interesting to get all these different perspectives on running from so many people.

Connie Gardner's favorite shoe was the original Adidas Adios.

6. Find the 'perfect' shoe

Connie: Today, runners have a lot more running shoe choices. And people are running faster in the carbon-plated shoes.
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All the new tech and materials used to make running shoes is great, but it still comes down to finding the perfect fit.

  • For me, that was the original Adidas Adios.
  • I wore that shoe for the majority of everything: Races, training, on the track, even 100-milers
  • It was low to the ground, lightweight, flexible and fit like a glove.

Today, I'm wearing the On Cloudmonster.
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It's comfortable, plenty of cushioning, and feels good on my bad knee.

Connie Gardner with ultrarunner Stephen Godale at Burning River 100.

7. Make race memories

Connie: Some of my favorite races include the:
 
Boston Marathon

  • It's just like a big party. 
  • It's really fun to meet a whole bunch of running friends there, and run it for the experience. 
  • Its my thing. I make sure I requalify every year.
  • And I'll be going back this April.

Mohican 100

  • Connie Gardner has won the Mohican 100-Mile Trail Race five times.
  • She's also won the Mohican 100 more times than any other woman in race history
  • This race is super cool. It's like a family reunion every year.
Connie: Find a fueling strategy that works for you.

8. Create your own fueling strategy

Connie:

I've never really had a rigid fueling strategy.

  • Instead, I like to just focus on getting out the door for a long run. Then stop in somewhere and buy a Gatorade.
  • I know that probably sounds bad, but it's worked.

Krispy Kreme pitstop?

My friends and I frequently run by a Krispy Kreme, looking for the blinking-red free-donut sign.

  • But it's never on when we run by. And no one ever seems to have any money, either.
  • Maybe the sign will be on the next time we run by.
Connie Gardner runs with Nikki Niemeyer during the Virginia 24-Hour Ultra Run & Relay.

9. Volunteer

Connie: The biggest race in our area is the Akron Marathon. I used to always race it, but now I volunteer in a few different spots.

  • This year I volunteered at an early-mile aid station in the race.
  • Then we shut down that aid station and shifted over to helping people at mile 25.
  • I even saw a couple of kids I coached in high school running their first marathon.

It's fun to be on the other side of a race sometimes. A lot of people helped me over the years, and I'm happy to give back.

Connie Gardner won female Ultrarunner of the Year in 2003 and 2012.

10. If you want to run a marathon...

Connie: Do it. That's a no brainer. 

  • If running a marathon is something you've been thinking about, go ahead and sign up. You'll be fine.
  • Try something like a six-mile long run. Run eight miles the next weekend. And try 10 miles in a couple of weeks.
  • If your heart rate gets too high and you're huffing and puffing, slow down and take a little walk break.
  • And start trying out different ways to fuel. Something as simple as some Gatorade during a long run can make you feel a lot better a couple miles later.
  • If you're really trying to push your limits (I ran two 100s back to back in the same month once), make sure you really focus on your nutrition, electrolytes, and fluids to help you recover faster and avoid getting dehydrated.
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Evan Jensen
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I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM...

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